Juggling work and kids can be a real challenge for us work from home mums, especially if you are a full-time mum and part time freelancer/business woman!
Over the years I have had pretty much every work from home scenario… sick kids, school holidays, babies/toddlers at home… you get my drift.
While it definitely hasn’t been easy, there are some things you can do to help buy you a little time to fit in some extra work. I’ve managed to find a whole bunch of things over the years to help keep the kids entertained while I fit in some work at home, so today I have pulled together 19 ideas that will hopefully help you preserve a bit of your sanity while you work from home!
Some of these things might get you a few hours, some might get you a few minutes, but it’s good to have these things in your work from home mum tool kit.
1. Busy bags
Busy bags are one of the greatest inventions for keeping kids occupied. This is something I wish I had come across so much earlier, but I reckon I still have a load of mileage to get out of this yet.
The concept of a busy bag is that you provide your kids with a little bag or box of goodies to keep them busy for a few minutes while you need to get something done. I’ve found that it is best to pre-prepare a little collection of them so that they can keep at it for a while (some of them they lose interest in pretty fast).
The busy bags can usually be made up of items that you will have around the house, supplemented with some added items that you can pick up cheaply at your local dollar store. Think activities like beading, colour sorting, and little craft activities. I even came across this amazing fun lego block activity which my older son loves (http://wildflowerramblings.com/homeschooling/alphabet-lego-cards-lowercase/). I laminated the cards so we are able to use them again and again.
I’ve also found some great resources on Pinterest that you can laminate and turn into little games for the kids to do. The ones that you laminate and get the kids to circle or draw things with whiteboard markers work really well!
Have a look here for some ideas: https://b-inspiredmama.com/busy-bags-co-op/ and https://www.coffeecupsandcrayons.com/20-free-printable-busy-bags/
2. Homemade playdough
You can get a whole lot of mileage with a batch of freshly made playdough and some dollar store cutters. And while it is really nice to play with the dough when it is nice and warm fresh from the pot, it also keeps well (literally for months) so can be made well in advance and pulled out time and time again.
We have ours stored in a plastic container with a load of different cutters, knives and other fun things the kids can squish playdough through (an old garlic press is great for making spaghetti type creations).
You can find a great and easy recipe here: https://www.under5s.co.nz/shop/Hot+Topics+Articles/Toys+Books+Play/Homemade+play+dough/Make+your+own+play+dough.html?fbclid=IwAR2373IGbj5V5OcAJchW7duPn3I9YdHbEfXek7mguFhaIGGhYTQeR-rHbQA
I totally understand that the reason why many of you want to be able to work from home is so that you can spend some more time with your kids, but if you are finding it really hard to get ahead then it can be really helpful to invest in a little bit of outside child care.
There are many child care centres that will take children for a half day here and there, so if you feel like you want some extra time but don’t want the kids in childcare for full days then look into what is available close to you.
Another thing you could consider if you don’t want to use a traditional childcare centre is to get a babysitter in for a few hours here and there. We have a lovely babysitter who the kids adore and from time to time she has collected the kids and bought them home when I have been busy with work. This is a major time saver for us!
4. Sensory play activities
Kids love sensory play, and the great thing about sensory play is that you can often create them with things you already have around the home. I got a whole load of mileage one afternoon by putting a big bag of basmati rice into a water table and giving the kids a bunch of buckets and spades.
Another thing our kids love is to play around with anything construction related. Something that they have really enjoyed is taking nuts and bolts and screwing them together in an old colander. For little ones who are too small to play with nuts and bolts, a similar activity can be made by using a colander and a packet of pipe cleaners.
If you need some inspiration check out these blog posts: https://handsonaswegrow.com/fine-motor-activity-pipe-cleaners/ and https://laughingkidslearn.com/playing-with-nuts-bolts-and-washers/
5. Outdoor office
On those nice summer days when you have work to do but the beach is calling try taking your laptop or tablet down to the beach with some buckets and spades. I’ve been able to get work done sitting by the beach side with the kids.
Even if it’s just scheduling in a few Facebook posts while you are sitting with the kids, the outdoor office can really help you to get the best of both worlds.
6. Get the kids involved
Do you do something that you can do with a little help from the kids? Or maybe the school holidays are a time when you can get around to decluttering your office, so you are all organised once the kids go back to school.
Kids can be great helpers, and love to get involved with what mum is up to. It might be sitting in while you record some videos, or maybe if taking photos is your thing the kids can do their own set ups and snaps alongside you.
7. Colouring books and pencils/pens
We get a lot of mileage out of colouring books, pens and pencils. My eldest in particular loves to colour and will happily sit with me colouring while I’m on a call or recording a live video.
Make it fun and set a challenge like “see if you can colour this whole page before mummy finishes her call”.
8. Lots of rolls of tape and the recycling bin
I don’t know about your kids, but mine can be kept entertained for hours with a few rolls of tape and some cardboard boxes. Throw in a few packs of stickers and some pipe cleaners and you can make this activity last even longer. I love seeing what they come up with.
9. Water play
Over the summer I found water play to be a real life saver, and I was able to get quite a bit of work done sitting next to the paddling pool with my laptop while the kids played. I did have to be a bit careful to avoid the splashes though!
The other thing that has been great is a water table. This was fantastic when the kids were toddlers, but is still being used even now.
10. Sidewalk chalk
This is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to keep the kids occupied for half an hour or so! Our kids love drawing all over the pavement outside our house. I think there is something fun about being allowed to draw on the ground that makes this activity even better.
11. A little TV time never hurt anyone
Okay, okay, so I can’t believe I am actually saying this, but when you’re desperate to get a little work done and the kids are around then I think it is totally OK for you to pop on a DVD and make the most of it.
I’ve never liked the idea of leaving the kids in front of the TV for hours on end and I swore I wouldn’t do this (pre-kids me swore a lot of things), but I’ve reached the point now where I have had to accept that there are days when they are home and I just need to get some work done. Besides, they actually LOVE it, so this helps to soften the mum guilt a little.
We find that it is best to set limits on this or we end up with battles. Our usual rule is one afternoon after school and one TV session in the weekend (e.g. a DVD), but I do tend to stretch this a bit over the school holiday and on sick days.
12. Kid swap
If you don’t want to put the kids into child care you could consider doing some child swaps with another work at home mum. If you have a friend who also has kids then see whether there is a possibility that you can have turns minding each others’ kids for a few hours here and there. That way you both get an opportunity to get a few hours peace.
If that’s not possible, then maybe you could try getting together and working together. I haven’t tried this one myself, but I generally find my kids are more easily entertained when there are other kids around, so it’s worth a shot!
13. Skill swap
If you can’t swap kids, maybe you could swap your services for some child minding? Maybe you can help a friend with their social media in return for them taking your kids to the park. Or possibly you can help your mum in the garden for a few hours in exchange for a few hours of babysitting! Be creative!
14. Daddy daycare
A lot of daddies are out working during the week, but maybe you could negotiate an arrangement with hubby where he takes the kids out for a few hours in the weekend or in the afternoons so you can get a little work done.
15. Treasure Hunt
This is a great way to keep the kids busy for a little while and can be done completely off the cuff and with no prep. Yep, I said no prep!
Ask the kids to find things for you around the house. The game goes a bit like this…find me two red lego blocks, 3 toy cars, two leaves, one teaspoon etc etc.
16. Tidy your room challenge (with bribery if needed)
My son hates to tidy his room, but with the right bribery this can be a great way to keep him entertained. The bribery doesn’t need to be a big thing, but it’s about striking the balance between work and keeping the kids entertained so something like “once your room is tidy I’ll take you for a bike ride” can work really well.
17. Baby play gym with snacks
This used to work a treat when the kids were much smaller. We had this easy to clean little play gym that they were able to sit in and eat/play. This didn’t buy me much time, but long enough to bang out a few emails or type up a little bit of work.
18. Indoor playgrounds
We have some great indoor playgrounds in our area where you can take the kids on a rainy day and let them run wild. It’s a great way to get them to burn off some energy, and often you can sit in the café and squeeze in a few minutes work while they play.
I took my kids to one of these places in the school holidays and I hadn’t thought to bring work with me, but they were having so much fun playing that I could quite easily brought my laptop along and squeezed in a little bit of work while watching them play!
19. Spelling, maths or handwriting sheets
This might sound a little on the boring side, but my 6 year old LOVES to do this, and there are so many free printables on Pinterest that this is something you can pull together pretty quickly. The kids can even help you search (or do some searching themselves).
To download a printable copy of the above post click here.
Kellie Dawson is a Mama Mentor, helping mums like you to find ways to freelance from home using the skills they already have. Kellie has two little boys aged 4 and 6, and it was her desire to be there for her boys that led her to quit her corporate job and build a work from home business. You can connect with Kellie on her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thefreelancemama or check out her blog and other resources at www.thefreelancemama.com